Thursday 30 September 2010

Call it love from a distance

I have not forgotten the allotment, or the blog, but everyone returning to work in the office after the summer has meant late hours, and days are drawing in. Weekends have also been busy...

But if you saw someone last night after sunset, in the pouring rain, picking grapes and rocket leaves, that was me! Seemed silly this morning, as I walked to the station in the warm sun, but that was the only sure time I could go.

There's still a lot going on: salad is slowly but steadily growing, the pumpkins have not grown big but are ripening, the vine has made so much more grapes than I expected (I could not see them among the lush leaves), raspberries are still fruiting, the Jerusalem artichokes are flowering so I guess they are ready, and finally the spinach I sowed in the newest bed I made is germinating...

In terms of looking forward, I am desperately late in getting the broad beans and garlic for next year, of all years the one when there seem to be a garlic shortage, so hurrying to get some would be in order! To boot,aAll my gardening magazines' subscriptions are expiring and I cannot find the time to renew them (well, not that I have read much of them lately anyway...).

Gosh, anyone else in such a terrible situation?!?

Looking forward to November, when the workload should fall back into its own right place.

-- Post From My iPhone

Sunday 19 September 2010

Green tomatoes

You are looking there at my latest nightmare.

It was 4.5 kg San Marzano and 1.1 kg cherry tomatoes to process as quickly as possible, before the blight set in.

Not a chutney person, I started a recipe research: there are hints here and there that green tomatoes may contain the poisonous alkaloid solanine (typical of the solanaceae family), but that is not proved and I found an interesting article on the NY Times about tomatoes, poisonous food and the little we know about it and several recipes to avoid crop waste. I guess moderation in eating is always key...

Anyway, after trying deep-fried green tomatoes in a batter of egg and a dusting of cornflour (and not being overenthusiastic about them), I turned to Italy for inspiration. Two recipes I found particularly appealing: jam (which is rather less complicated and tastes delicious) and preserve in oil (which takes five days to prepare but smells lovely: taste trial in two months!)

Here's the links to the recipes that inspire me, loosely translated underneath. Of course, you need to sterilise the jars and the preserve as per best practice. 
Green tomatoes preserved in extra virgin olive oil

Slice the tomatoes, cover in salt for 24 hours, squeeze them dry, cover in white vinegar for 4 hours, squeeze them dry again. Place in a jar with pepper, oregano, slices of garlic and a few bay leaves before covering in oil. 

Green tomato jam

Blanch the tomatoes, peel them and remove the seeds. Add the juice and zest of a lemon and half a kg of sugar for each kg of tomatoes. Leave the mix to infuse in a bowl for 12 hours, then cook and can as you would do any jams. 
Green tomatoes preserved in extra virgin olive oil

You need properly green tomatoes so they do not soften up too much with time. Rinse and slice them in stripes, which you will put in a large glass or ceramic bowl.
Cover in salt and with clean hands stir it in well. Cover the bowl and leave for 24 hours. 

After that, pour them in a colander or sieve, and, in order to squeeze them well dry, place some heavy weight over them (i.e. a pan full of water).
Cover them and leave for another 24 hours.

The next step is to cover the dry tomato strips in vinegar in a clean bowl, untangling them with a fork so that the maximum surface is exposed to soak up the vinegar. Leave them for another 24 hours.
Squeeze them dry once again.

Aside, mix some finely chopped parsley (a herb mill is ideal), garlic, chilly, oregano and extra virgin olive oil.
Pour the mix on the dry tomatoes, stir it in, cover the bowl and leave for another 24 hours to soak up the flavours.

Finally, it's time to can them: put a little oil in the bottom of the jar, then add the toms, pressing them well. Cover with oil, seal and keep in a cool and dark place for at least 3 months before using.

Friday 10 September 2010

Ladies and gentlemen: Phoenix and Dornfelder

The scepticism of my allotment neighbours has not proved right, at least for this one year. The grapes have a sharp burst and a rather sweet aftertaste. A pleasure for the eye and the tastebuds. Which, before washing, was home to a tiny snail and a 7-spot ladybird.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

RIP dear tommies... welcome preserve!

Blight struck.

On Friday my tomatoes pleased me beyond belief, lush, green, with two orangey ripe... and on Sunday night they were a rather messy heap of brown and mould.

So I picked all of the ones big enough & not damaged and have just discovered that I have to process them quickly to avoid deterioration, as they won't ripen but rather get the disease.

On the plus side, you can compost the leaves as spores don't survive on dead vegetation, only on seeds (so don't save any). Too late for my own plants which I threw in the bin as I was not sure, but the source being Garden Organic, it is reliable information.

Also on the plus, there are plenty of recipes for green tomatoes and you are not stuck with chutney - something I would have dreaded. They can be fried, made into pasta sauce and preserved in oil, for example, which I will try tonight, and someone apparently even eats them raw!

-- Post From My iPhone

Saturday 4 September 2010

Obsessed with elderberries

As I mentioned before my short holiday break, I have been doing more preserving, particularly of wild berries - something that this year has really possessed me: I have to do it, to try how it tastes and can be saved for later.

I tried an early hawthorn jelly, which set so hard because of the unripe berries that it stuck to the lid of the jar: as my colleague observed, the first ever upside-down jelly... But elder berries are what really fascinates me. I have tried two recipes for liqueur, and the one from the German-speaking part of Italy which is called Holunderlikoer tasted so good that I wanted to have a go at elderberry jelly too. Throughout the holidays I could not look at an elder without coveting the berries. And as soon as I came back last night I grabbed some half-kilo and set about processing it, finishing well beyond midnight.

Here's the elder recipes, roughly, in my own style.

My problem with jam-making seems to be pectin levels, or the setting point: mostly I get rather loose texture - even though it tastes good, as was the case with my raspberry jam - 500gr jar all vanished on our holiday, deliciously (and a bit messily) spread on clotted cream and homemade scones (not my own). Any suggestions from expert jam-makers?

And with liqueurs I had  to play around a bit before I learnt how alcohol dilutes (in Italy they sell 95% vol alcohol for preserving and liqueur making and that is what the recipes suggest, so in the UK, supposing you use clear vodka, or eau de vie, the resulting liqueur will be weaker, or you will have to use less water in the recipe). You might find it useful to know the formula:
to dilute 95% to 40%, for every 40cc add enough water to make 95cc
where 1cc = 1 ml (if I am correct). So if vodka is 50% and you want to make a 40% liqueur you will have to add to 40ml of preparation enough water to make 50ml. And in the recipe below you will have to use roughly 1/5 less water.

Shall I say here: drink responsibly?!? I would hate that. I assume that people have enough self-respect not to drink themselves senseless and are wise enough not to damage their own health. Drinks, and food, are made to taste and enjoy consciously. I do not want to be associated with any idea that I might promote drunkenness, which I find so stupid and dangerous that I cannot bring my head round why people binge-drink at all.

Holunderlikoer (loosely translated)
  • 1 measure (however many you have) of elderberries, stalks removed washed and dried
  • 1.5 measures of water (1/5 of it being 0.3 measures)
  • 0.5 measures of sugar
  • 0.5 food grade alcohol (or clear vodka, eau de vie etc)
  • Vanilla pod
Boil the berries in the water for 15 mins ca (depending on the quantity more may be necessary). Sieve the pulp through a muslin. Put the liquid back in the pan with the sugar and vanilla for another 15 mins ca (always depending on quantity, until the sugar is melted). Let it cool down before adding the alcohol, mixing and bottling. Leave the liquour to rest for a while to improve flavour.

 Elderberry liqueur (loosely translated)
  • Ripe berries, stalks removed, washed and dried
  • Lemon rind, without white bit
  • Sugar
  • Food grade alcohol
  • Vanilla pod
Put the berries in an airtight jar with the alcohol and lemon rind and leave for a fortnight. Remove the solids.
Make a sugar syrup with as much water as needed to dilute to the desired strength and the vanilla, simmering until the sugar is melted. I guess the quantities can be made as per recipe above. Take out the vanilla and mix with the alcoholic infusion. Leave to rest for a few days before passing through a muslin and bottling.

Elderberry jelly (loosely translated)
  • 1 measure elder berries, stalks removed, washed and dried
  • Sugar (60% in weight of the sieved berries pulp)
  • Vanilla pod
Squash the berries and simmer on low until they look soft enough to sieve. Add the sugar and vanilla and bring to the boil until setting point is reached (cannot help you there!). Bottle in sterilised jars according to usual preserving procedure.

Cornwall is such a paradise and the weather was so great, it was hard to leave. However, it was good to get back and see that the allotment is still in full-blown production, despite the increased activity of slugs and that blooming bird that shamelessly enjoyed my second ripe fig. Look forward to tasting the grapes!